Kolkata: Come September, the eyes of the cricketing world will be riveted at the UAE, as well as Oman, as the remaining part of IPL 2021 (which had to be suspended in early May due to a surge in COVID-19 cases in India) and the T20 World Cup scheduled to be held there back-to-back till mid-November.
It had been quite a tough call for the top brass of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to take the two marquee tournaments overseas, but Jay Shah, the young and dynamic secretary of the world’s richest cricket board feels ‘‘tough times’’ often prompt tough decisions. The ‘Big Two’ of President Sourav Ganguly and Shah have not had a smooth ride at the helm so far with a raging pandemic for nearly last one and-a-half years often putting a spanner in the works - but they have carried on undaunted.
There had been an oft-repeated criticism that the current regime had not often paid same attention in improving the lot for domestic cricket as they have for IPL, but Shah feels such talk is ‘‘unwarranted and unfair’’ given the odds the BCCI had to battle against in recent times and the dynamics of running the game in a big country like India.
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The duo paid a visit to both the host countries last week, being present in Muscat to release the groupings of World T20 last Friday as well as catching up with other administrative fineprint. Shah took time out for an exclusive interview with Gulf News, where he has spoken on a wide range of subjects - from reasons prompting the board to shift the mega events to the UAE and the comfort zone they are in with the Emirates Cricket Board now, World Test Championship to the bright prospects of Ahmedabad having an IPL franchise from next year.
Following are the excerpts:
The last three months saw you and the BCCI top brass taking some tough calls – be it suspending the IPL in India and then shifting the IPL & T20 World Cup to the UAE. How difficult was it to take such decisions?
Tough times necessitate tough calls and these are some tough times. The Indian Premier League is the most popular T20 league in the world and we were keen to have the full season in India and we did all we could to make it happen in India. It started off well, but the cases in India shot up drastically. Once IPL had its first case, we did not waste any time in suspending the season.
The BCCI has always put the health and safety of its stakeholders as a priority and suspending the league was a decision taken in that regard. Yes, it means we will have to start from scratch in terms of planning, logistics and continuity, but compromising health and safety was never an option.
Both you and the president Sourav Ganguly were very keen to have the World T20 in India. Did you decide to switch it finally to ensure a successful IPL as well?
No, the decision to shift the World Cup to UAE and Oman was an independent one. The BCCI had begun its preparation for the T20 World Cup a year in advance. We were on track to deliver a memorable World Cup. Our hospitality is among the best in the world, and we have iconic stadia to match the fervour of the World Cup.
The Indian fans have waited long to return to the stadium and enjoy watching their favourite stars in action all over again. We wanted to do it for them. Our experience in hosting IPL and ICC events give us an advantage as we know what it takes to host such a marquee tournament.
Now, with the World Cup taking place in the UAE, it will be ideal preparation for all the players as IPL is a tournament of international standard and stature.
The UAE has grown in confidence about it’s hosting capabilities and have thrown their hat as one of the contenders for the next cycle of ICC white ball events from 2023. How do you rate their chances of getting more major events in future?
We always believed in the hosting capabilities of the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) and if you remember, the UAE hosted part of 2014 IPL as well.
The BCCI shares an excellent relationship with the ECB and it is an extension of the very strong bi-lateral ties between India and UAE. The ECB has created a fantastic set-up with excellent cricketing infra structure. We wish them all the best for hosting future tournaments and if they get an opportunity, I am sure they will do a fabulous job.
Now that both the IPL & World T20 are in the UAE, what’s a safe guess on bringing back international cricket to India again?
As soon as possible! We want to play cricket in India at the earliest. Bi-lateral international cricket is a lot different from the IPL and ICC tournaments as it is not a multi-team tournament. It is played between two national teams, which is easier to control and manage. Earlier this year, the BCCI hosted the English team and we had a full-fledged multi-format series.
We are scheduled to host New Zealand after the T20 World Cup and international cricket will hopefully return to India. I will reiterate that the safety of stakeholders will be a priority and that will be the crucial factor in all our decisions.
Bi-lateral international cricket is a lot different from the IPL and ICC tournaments as it is not a multi-team tournament. It is played between two national teams, which is easier to control and manage.
On a slightly different note, the ICC has announced their second cycle of World Test Championship. Are you satisfied with the new points system per match rather than a series?
After the first WTC cycle, the ICC sought a review and a lot of points were considered at the CEC meeting. In the first cycle, every series carried 120 points irrespective of the number of games played. The global impact of COVID-19 meant that some teams could fulfil their commitments and some teams did not and the point system was altered midway.
All of that was discussed at the ICC CEC meeting. I believe this is the right approach as it will add more context to every game.
There had been a bit of criticism from some quarters that while the BCCI pulls out on all stops to save and conduct the IPL at any cost – as it’s their biggest revenue machinery – they don’t show the same concern for domestic cricket. Do you agree?
I feel the criticism is unwarranted and unfair. In 2020 as well, in the middle of the pandemic, we conducted Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament, Vijay Hazare tournament and Senior Women’s One-day tournament taking all precautions.
It won’t be a fair assessment if IPL is compared with other Indian domestic tournaments. The IPL has a franchise model and a platform for the world’s best cricketers, coaches, support staff to come and showcase their skills. The Indian domestic season has over 2000 games, whereas the IPL has 60 matches. With a cricketing set-up as big and as diverse as India’s, it is not easy to conduct a full season when so many states are grappling with COVID caseloads.
You also have to factor in the time taken to have an entire domestic season and the travel that is included. The safety of the organisers is also important. They are putting their lives at risk, which should never be the case. It is not ideal to have age-group tournaments in such an environment and put careers of young cricketers at risk.
However, with the situation improving, we have announced a full season comprising 2127 domestic games across age groups for both men and women. We are hopeful that we will have a full domestic season in 2021-22.
Ahmedabad has grown in stature by leaps and bounds as a cricket hub with the inauguration of world’s biggest cricket venue. Shall we see a IPL franchise from there soon?
The passion for cricket among the people of Ahmedabad and Gujarat is huge. Shri Narendra Modi Stadium can accommodate 1.32 lakh people and it is the largest cricket stadium in the world with world class facilities.
The infra-structure is there for the bidders to make an informed decision. The BCCI and IPL have a transparent tender process for selecting the two new teams. The fairness and transparency of the process will not be comprised at any cost.